Book Review: Last of the Sandwalkers, Jay Hosler (2015)

April 10th, 2015 11:17 am by Kelly Garbato

A Heroine Like No Other!

four out of five stars

(Full disclosure: I received a free copy of this book for review from the publisher.)

I find myself thinking about this hue-mon all of the time. I wonder if it ever thought about us?

Was there room in here for thoughts about beetles?

Did it ever wonder how some glow?

Or spray liquid fire?

Or dance on water?

Or drink fog?

Maybe someday, if a hue-mon reads this journal, it will help them appreciate all of the amazing little aliens living underfoot.

Lucy may “just” be a junior faculty member at Colepolis University – and a beetle, to boot – but she’s about to change the way her people view the world. Reluctantly granted funding by the scientific ministry, Lucy’s leading a team of five scientist-explorers out into the great unknown – the vast desert that lies beyond the oasis where their coconut tree grows. Colepolis is home, and all its beetle citizens know of the world – all its elite ruling class allows them to know – is contained within its borders. That is, until Lucy breaks with years of tradition and superstition, and insists on proving that the world is more complex and wonderful than they can possibly imagine.

At her side are the senior professors, the kindly Beatrice Bombardier and the scheming and reactionary Professor Owen, secret member of the Order of the Scarabi; the pun-loving Raef, who may or may not be part robot; large and lumbering Mossy, the group’s protector; and, last but certainly not least, Ma’Dog, a storyteller long since exiled from Colepolis, who begrudgingly trades his expertise for safe passage back to his homeland. Together they must brave all sorts of threats – snakes, sandstorms, spiders, birds, bats, velvet worms, tree resin, and worst of all, backstabbing colleagues and religious fundamentalists – in order to return to Colepolis with news of all the strange and unusual creatures they found.

Jay Hosler’s Last of the Sandwalkers might be the first graphic novel I’ve read that ends with both footnotes and a reference list – which speaks volumes about the book. Not only is it witty, wonderfully imaginative, and highly entertaining, but Hosler – a biology professor at Juniata College – educates as well. The story is populated by all manner of grotesque yet adorable insects; the drawings are both lovely and highly informative. There’s even a field guide to the main characters! If Gil Grissom were a real person (and I was lucky enough to count him a friend), he’d totally find this stuffed in his stocking come Christmas.

(True story: before I realized that Professor Bombardier was a lady, I imagined her speaking in William Petersen’s voice. Then I switched to William Petersen speaking in falsetto.)

Lucy is the sort of hero you want to root for: smart but not infallible, she’s a clever girl who wants nothing more than see the world and suck down its knowledge like so much nectar. She’s also kind and compassionate; some of my favorite scenes involve Lucy fretting over the amber beetle’s well-being, or interacting with the emotionally fragile Raef. There’s an especially refreshing plot line about consent, which I don’t think was necessarily intended in a sexual way, but could certainly be used to teach kids about the importance of bodily consent as well.

While Last of the Sandwalkers is a great tool for getting kids interested in entomology (and teaching the importance of scientific inquiry in general), adults are sure to get a kick out of it as well. There are quite a few unexpected twists and turns that had me at the edge of my seat, and I stayed up well past my bedtime to finish. Secret societies, family drama, robots big and small, action and adventure, even a touch of romance – Last of the Sandwalkers has got it all. I won’t lie; I even got a little teary-eyed at the end. (Page 292 – that’s the spot.)

Buy it for: Little nerdlings; kids who like playing in the dirt; adults who carry spiders outside instead of squashing them outright – or are happy to just let them be.

(This review is also available on Amazon, Library Thing, and Goodreads. Please click through and vote it helpful if you’re so inclined!)


Comments (May contain spoilers!)

Diversity: Given that the protagonists are all insects, I don’t know how I’d go about gauging racial diversity, except to say that when the bugs reference humans, they’re described as “various shades of brown.” (The bugs live under a coconut tree in a desert oasis.) There are two or three beetle pairings, all of which are same-sex.


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